Book Review: Company by Max Barry

Max Barry is one of those rare writers – able to weave humour and a thick plot into high-paced action, and to do so consistently. Previously, he’d written Syrup, largely unheard of and unnoticed, and Jennifer Government, his “break out” novel that took branding to the extreme. Company, his latest, continues the fine tradition of corporate satire with serious plot.

Jones is a new graduate joining Zephyr Holdings – the reason for joining being the drop-dead-gorgeous receptionist who drives an Audi – but he doesn’t really know what Zephyr does, per se. And since there’s a hiring freeze due to budget restrictions, he’s being paid from the copy paper budget. He starts to ask questions that make his co-workers, Freddy the sales assistant who hasn’t been promoted in 5 years, and Holly the fitness freak, a little bit uncomfortable – they’re all thinking it, but no-one asks out loud, until Jones at least.

And then there’s a twist, about a third of the way in, that skews everything, and prevents me from writing any more. But let me provide an extract:

“First we had to cut out above-the-line advertising,” the communications manager says. “Then we cut advertising altogether. After that we were down to market research and PR. But lately, we don’t even do those.”

“Then what do you do?”

“Nothing. We don’t have the budget.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Not since June.” The communications manager winks. “Don’t tell anybody. So far, no one’s noticed.”

“Huh,” Holly says.

“Before then, we were really under the gun. We got warned on expenses three times in a month. But now everyone’s feeling really positive. Morale is way up.”

“But what do you do all day?”

“Oh, we’re still working. We’re working harder than ever. Every day we identify new ways to lower expenses. Just yesterday, we boarded up our office windows.”

“You have windows?” Holly cries.

Had. Now they’re covered in cardboard.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Infrastructure Management bills for windows. Covering them up cut our overhead by 8 percent.”

I dunno; I found it hilarious :D

If you’ve ever worked in a big company, Company is chock full of things you’ll recognise, and occasionally think about yourself. Most excellent book all round :)

★★★★

There is a snake

There is a snake in the house. It’s just come in through either the garage or the front door, and it’s just sitting by the wall in the entryway. We have people over and they (my parents and these people) were just planning to go for an evening stroll.

Mum starts to get a little flustered, as might be expected. She refuses to live in this house anymore until we get pest control – the cockroaches were bad enough, but this is Sydney, so you expect them a bit. Dad joked that this meant it was a place where things liked to live. I think the snake probably crosses a mental line, though.

I google for the snake’s description – stark black-and-white stripes – and from what I find, I think it’s a relatively harmless little thing called a “bandy-bandy”. Dad ponders if it’s a baby, given how small it is. Mum eases up not one whit. She tells me to find out who to call for getting it removed. It’s 9:45 on Sunday night.

I google around. I’m getting nothing – Google is no longer my friend, it is deliberately obfuscating anything to do with what I actually want to do. I find a likely number, eventually, approaching the problem sideways.

I go towards the front of the house,  and note the lack of any other sounds – the radio’s on, and it’s blasting 40 year old hindi songs I want nothing to do with.

There’s no-one there. It’s dark. The old music is now just plain creepy. I retreat to the comfort of the TV, and my computer.

I have no idea what happened. Live blogging in the finest tradition.

Memo: Indian Outsource Men

Memo: To all Indian men working as outsource employees in overseas companies.

Please, shave that upper lip. What is it, a uniform? Part of the condition of letting you go overseas? Yeesh.

(Also, that leather jacket? Not appropriate in summer)

Movie Review: Happy Feet

Mumble is an emperor penguin with a problem: he can’t sing like the other penguins. Indeed, his singing is so bad, he’s practically an outcast. Also, he has this funny thing going on with his feet, and this is causing all sorts of upset to his parents, and the tribal elders. The elders cast him out, saying his destruction of their traditions is what’s responsible for their “god” witholding fish; he finds a group of smaller penguins and with them goes and finds the cause of the lack of fish, the “aliens”, penguins with flabby faces, no beaks or feathers (i.e. humans). The humans see how cute his dancing is, they think the penguins are trying to send them a message, see the error of their ways, and they move on banning fishing in the Antarctic zone, and all’s well that ends well.

This movie takes anthropomorphism to such extremes, it’s nearly ridiculous.

The emperor penguins have these broad stereotype-based accents – “Memphis” is an Elvis, opening with “Heartbreak Hotel”. “Norma Jean” is Marilyn Monroe. The crabby eldest-elder sounds like Liam Neeson in that Irish movie (:P). The badass leopard seal has a vaguely threatening east german accent. The gulls sound like Italian mobsters (here’s lookin’ at you, De Niro). The small penguins are latino through and through (I called them the party penguins). The elephant seals have such broad Aussie accents, you wonder if they’re going to ask about prawns on the barbie next.

Don’t even get me started on the plot. There’s the childhood-friend-turned-romantic-interest, the guilty-father, the hero’s sojurn through adversity; so many stereotypes, it’s like they threw the book of kid’s movie plots against the wall and saw what stuck. There’s a song-and-dance number every five minutes, there’s no less than 4 occasions where they demonstrate technical wizardry in “chase” like scenes, especially penguins sliding across the ice, for no discernable plot reason what so ever. The denouement is about as fast as it takes to read the final sentence of my plot summary. Characters are foreshadowed as recurring villans, but never show up again. And how the hell does a penguin floating on the seas end up missing all of the southern hemisphere and land on a beach of Florida?!

And yet, despite all this, it’s a cute kids movie; that’s one undeniable aspect. The animation is excellent, the character designs cute and the whole package is served up with a Disney-esque sugary sweetness to it that can’t be denied. Robin Williams shines, injecting some much needed humour into the movie. You can’t really fault the song-and-dance numbers because they’re well executed, and for the most part enjoyable.

Best animated feature, though? No way. Hoodwinked deserved that by a country mile (though I think that was a 2005 release in the States).

★★★

Hurr

I’m bored. Nothing’s happening.

No, that’s a lie, actually. I’m not. And stuff is happening. I just haven’t got the writing impulse flowing.

Reading Max Barry‘s Company, which is all kinds of awesome, awesome fun. Good Australian writer with a penchant for corporate satire like you wouldn’t believe ($29.95 at good bookstores).

Angry with Apple for running out of MacBook battery stock just as I need to get mine “serviced” (read: replaced). Oh Apple, how I loathe your service department. And your occasional unreliablity.

Finding work interesting and challenging these days as I get more responsibility and confidence.

Looking forward to the (quick) trip to Melbourne, for a certain wedding. Don’t think I’ll have much time to do much else though, such being the slings-and-arrows of the “free” frequent-flyer point tickets.

Looking extremely forward to the week-long trip to Singapore! much frivolity planned (though we really shouldn’t :D)

Have been going to gym! Yet to get visible results, but I feel more… fit. Good Thing.

And that just about wraps it up for today! See ya.

Movie Review: Man of the Year

Man of the Year isn’t a movie I mentioned in my Movies of 07, but that’s mostly because there was no hype around it at all, and I only found out about it when the trailers started appearing on TV last week.

The set up: A comedian gets elected president. How much more do you need?

Robin Williams is Tom Dobbs, a Colbert-esque comedian poking humour into news. One night, a member of the audience suggests he run for president. So he does, and because of a glitch in the computerised voting system, he gets voted in. Storyline ensues. What’s most important about this movie is that it’s got Robin Williams. Robin Williams. And Christopher Walken! Sure-fire humour!

Or is it? Williams drops plenty of humour, sure, but he’s obviously got a message to tell, underneath it. And that’s where the trailer and the movie go their seperate ways – the trailer seems to bill it as a non-stop comedy ride, while in reality, it’s a little bit political satire, a little bit we-have-a-message. That discrepancy got me; I was expecting more laughs, and while there are plenty, it’s in the grand comedy tradition, not slipping into screwball comedy. I want Robin Williams to do something like that dammit!

But that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. The message is pertinent, and this should be compulsory viewing in an election year. By delievering its message through humour, the message gets through and, while you’ll laugh at first, afterwards the message will linger. And Williams is Williams; you couldn’t be disappointed by a man that smart & ernest about everything. I’d vote for him, if he ever stood.

The best line of the movie comes right at the end: “Politicians are like diapers; they should be changed often, and for the same reason.” =)

★★★☆